PM Perspectives: Getting started with the Peer Review Process

Posted by EPSRC Engineering team on 04 March 2019

There is no grantsmanship that will turn a bad idea into a good one, but there are many ways to disguise a good one.

William Raub, Past Deputy Director, NIH

For new researchers, applying for your first grant with any funding body can be daunting. We have created a series of blogs, written by EPSRC Portfolio Managers (PMs), to demystify the process and provide hints and tips for stronger applications.

If you have not applied for EPSRC funding before, our Funding Options Podcast and Funding Options Flowchart are a great starting point. Here you will find out the differences between our funding options and hear our PMs tackle some of the most common myths around funding options.

Before submission: general advice

Standard mode proposals and New Investigator Awards go through a two-part assessment process of (1) expert peer review, and (2) generalist panel, which can be composed of both academic and industrial members. The panel uses the expert peer review reports to moderate across all proposals and create a rank order list. Your proposal must balance the necessity of showing the novelty of the technical aspects while also being clear to a non-expert audience.

To help you do this, consider the following:

  • Look at the reviewer prompts and what the reviewers are asked to comment on. Does your proposal answer these questions? Have you left any gaps?
  • You need to convince experts in your own research field about the value of your project. Panels will comment on this; for example, The reviews all seemed very positive, but there was no real sense of excitement. Consider what excites you about your research and convey this to both audiences. Convince your peers!
  • Addressing the basics may seem obvious, but ensure that your proposal contains sufficient details for experts and non-experts alike.
  • Although a panel assesses applications on the basis of reviewer reports, try to make your proposal helpful for those who may not be experts in your precise area. Is your title and summary meaningful and accessible?
  • Always remember the basics:
    • What are you planning to do?
    • How are you planning to do it?
    • Why is this important?

Well-written proposals:

  • Take the assessment criteria into account
  • Demonstrate the capability of the applicant(s)
  • Show novelty and added value
  • Are clear about the ideas, methodology and work plan; they are not woolly or cluttered with technical jargon
  • Don't leave questions unanswered

Case for Support

The Case for Support is your opportunity to convince your peers of why your proposed research should be funded. Use it well by providing a convincing case for the originality of your proposal and describing your objectives clearly and succinctly. Proposals are not rejected just because others are doing similar work. However, if you don't describe the novelty of your approach and the likelihood of success when compared with others, the value of your proposal may be questioned.

Reviewers often comment that a proposal is unclear about the methodology to be applied, or on the degree of ambition that a proposal has. It's best not to leave it to your peers to ask the questions. Show that you have thought the proposal through and explain how it will succeed. Potential applications might be obvious to you, but tell reviewers and panel members what they are so they are not left in doubt.

Before you submit

We know you are keen to click that submit button but before you do, here are a few things to think about:

  • Have you looked at the reviewer forms and considered what would it be like to review your proposal?
  • Have you asked experienced colleagues review your proposal?
  • Have you looked at successful proposals at your institution (this may help you with structure)?
  • Is the summary well-written and accessible to a non-expert audience?
  • The content and structure of your proposal: is it a wall of poorly-structured or closely-spaced paragraphs? Make sure it is easy for reviewers to read.

Proposal Summary

The proposal summary will be posted on Grants on the Web and Gateway to Research if your project is successful. This is read by a wide range of people, so please ensure that it is written for a general, not technical, audience. To this end, please do not simply cut and paste from elsewhere on your proposal.

Je-S

Portfolio managers are unable to access Je-S and cannot provide assistance with this system. If you have any problems while working on your proposal, please contact your research office or the Je-S helpdesk at 01793 44 4164.

Documents uploaded as "Other" are not seen by peer review. Your research office can also provide general help when uploading your proposal to the Je-S system.

Author

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Photo of three members of the EPSRC Engineering team
Name: EPSRC Engineering team
Section / Team: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC

A note from the authors:

As EPSRC Portfolio Managers, we each oversee a different community within our main research theme and although the research areas may differ, the questions we receive are often the same. We thought it would be beneficial to share what we have learned through managing the peer review process and convening panels and we hope you find this a useful addition to what is already on the website.

This advice was written by Engineering Portfolio Managers, but is applicable to other EPSRC themes. The information is correct at time of publishing in February 2019.